"Bird Box" Review: What Could Have Been vs. What Is

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Bird Box is a hybrid of A Quiet Place and The Happening. So it’s not surprising that it lands in the middle of the two. It soars in its elements of suspense and perhaps the all too familiar, “what would you do in a post-apocalyptic setting?” theme! It also crashes in its pacing and character development. So the real question is, should you lift your blindfold and watch the movie? I think the gander won’t kill you!

The film starts out with Malorie (Sandra Bullock) giving life or death instructions to two little children she calls Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) and Boy (Julian Edwards). She’s not just giving them instructions, she’s telling us the rules for the world they’re living in and the road we’re about to travel. It’s intense, it’s mysterious and it’s engaging. Then we’re thrust back in time, just five years prior, to a pregnant Malorie and a world in which things are starting to go awry.

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A menacing force that turns people suicidal when they look at it has reached the United States. After joining a house full of survivors barricaded inside a home, Malorie and her companions spend time trying to understand what they’re up against and live to see another day. Perhaps that’s a poor choice of words as they have to stay blindfolded whenever they venture out, but you get what I mean.

Bird Box landed on Netflix at a perfect time. Released over the holidays, when people are home and looking to be entertained, the film does just that. At its core, the movie is a character study into who we are as human beings in the worst of times. Malorie is a mother willing to do anything to keep her children safe from harm. Braving scavenger runs into houses with people who have become the entity’s helpers due to their mental illness (which was a concept that could have been explored more) and blindly taking on river rapids, she’s the embodiment of perfect love driving out fear. 

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The issue with the film is that it spends less time developing its characters and more time introducing characters just enough to set up inevitable kills. Perhaps the film could have been better as a series, especially given the nature of the streaming distributor. With more time to let us sink into the world, it could have been a binge worthy series. I would have loved to explore Malorie and Tom’s (Trevante Rhodes) journey over the course of five years growing accustomed to the new normal while facing threats. The concept of the mentally ill hunting for people to expose to the outside dangerous entity is the things that "The Purge” is made of. Instead, it has to rush its pacing by nature of a two hour sci-fi drama and awkwardly jumps through time to tell the story.

With solid performances from Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sara Paulson,  and Lil Rel Howery, I think the disappointment is what the film could have been versus what it is. Still, it should be an entertaining watch for Netflix users! It’s not like you spent any extra money to see it and you’ve already paid for access to see it. So by all means, take the gander and come to your own conclusion! 

Rating: C+

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"The Christmas Chronicles" Review

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As the holidays descend upon us, so do the holiday movies! Enter Netflix’s latest The Christmas Chronicles. “Who would have thought Kurt Russell would make such a great Santa Claus?” said someone who has never seen a Kurt Russell film!

Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy Pierce (Judah Lewis) are siblings who have recently lost their father. They don’t spend much time together like they used to. Perhaps it’s because of their age difference, and likely the loss of their dad. So when Kate propositions Teddy to help her catch Santa (Kurt Russell) on video in exchange for not showing their mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) video evidence of Teddy’s grand theft auto, he agrees. 

Not only do the two catch Santa in the act, they wind up going for a wild ride over an entertaining night with Santa Claus himself in an effort to save Christmas. Yes, it’s the sappy theme you’d expect, but with a modern edge that makes it fun for the entire family! Imagine all the great Kurt Russell quips that you’ve heard and swag you’ve seen in his work history applied to the role of Santa. He’s you’re cool grandpa that knows everyone he comes in contact with. 

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Part of what sells this version of celebrating the Christmas spirit is the look and wardrobe of Santa Claus. In fact, the running joke of the film is how he’s not a fat and jolly old man. Instead, his slimmer physique and Russell’s signature delivery with dialogue, makes for a believable, more youthful Claus. Claus’s suit is the red and white we’ve come to recognize, but has a brown tint in the white fur. It’s a befitting look for a unique Claus.

The visual effects team works magic in this film (minus the obviously CGI elves) as a floating sleigh looks authentic, Santa vanishing into mystical dust, and reindeer flying all look grounded in reality. Perhaps drawing on his animation experience and having director Clay Kaytis (his second time at the helms since 2016’s Angry Birds Movie) directing a film that relies on it’s visual effects and animation was a good move. 

The Christmas Chronicles is a solid pick for family viewing this season. With solid performances from its cast, the intrinsic entertaining magic of the season is baked into the script from Matt Lieberman. Plus, finding out who Mrs. Claus is will be a treat for movie geeks. So grab the kids, some cookies and milk, and have a nice night on Netflix.

Rating: B

"The After Party" Review

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The After Party is the 8 Mile for this generation. That’s not necessarily a good thing for my fellow barely-made-the-cut millennials. While we remember 8 Mile fondly from our college days as B-Rabbit chasing the dream by battling rappers, living in a trailer park, and dealing with some bad hands in life, we live in a different time now. As a Netflix original in part produced by internet juggernaut World Star, the film charts the path of the possible rise to stardom for this era’s hip hop artists but forgets to provide substance along the way.

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Basically, it’s a one wild night story in which Owen (rapper Kyle) is a struggling artist trying to make it in the game. His best friend, Jeff (Harrison Holzer), believes he’s the truth and will make it more than he does and pushes him as his manager. Yet, with being sent to the Marines on the horizon, the duo has one night to try to impress a record exec before Owen’s fate is sealed. Just prior to this all too important night, Owen went viral after throwing up on Wiz Khalifa by way of hitting his super strong weed. Now known as “Seizure Boy” on the internet, Owen has to prove that he’s more than just a meme. If this doesn’t sound substantive, wait, there’s more.

In the midst of trying to get a deal, Owen also wants to get with Jeff’s sister, Alicia (Shelley Hennig), who he’s dug since childhood. With the proper motivations in place, Owen and Jeff navigate the night and a multitude of cameos to try to get to an elusive party where he might be able to spit for a new life. The cameos in this film fly at you fast and furious in almost each scene change. Yet, it may be fair to say that’s much like this digital world of social media that we live in. We’re constantly bombarded with information digitally, so why not be bombarded with DJ Khaled, Jadakiss, Tee Grizzley, Pusha T and more randomly throughout the film?!

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Regardless of how inconsequential my old fuddy duddy self thinks the plot is. There are definitely some laugh out loud moments in the film if you’re a fan of hip hop culture. The fact that the film revels in it’s outlandishness makes it easy to ingest if you don’t take it too seriously. Cinematographers Damian Acevedo and Dagmar Weaver-Madsen present a dream-like palette worthy of the best follow your dreams movie. Kyle turns in a believable performance as the laid back Owen.

I can still remember watching the rap battles in 8 Mile over and over in my college dorm room. Perhaps one of the best lessons in that film was seeing Eminem’s character go back to work right after becoming the man to beat. The After Party doesn’t leave you with any life lessons, and ends on an all to clean note. However, if you’re willing to take the ride, you can’t help but feel the inner dreamer in yourself cheer a little by the end.

Rating: C

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.